Over the days, almost like a slowly blooming flower, I then began to discover its stunning vistas, burgeoning wine industry (not to mention their fantastic walnut liquor), variety of delicious food, fascinating history, adventure options, and an inherent joie-de-vivre of people who will sing and dance without much persuasion.
To me, Bulgaria is the next “hot” destination for family travelers because it’s safe, family-friendly, offers a very good standard of service, and has many options for hikers and foodies to history buffs and beach bums.
Here’s a listing of my top local and sustainable experiences:
Melnik – Nestled amongst churches and monasteries, Melnik is a small village (located 2 ½ hours south of Sofia) that offers good hiking along its sand pyramids. There is a comfortable lodge that serves very traditional food that reminded me of my own Greek mother’s and grandmother’s cooking – delicious!
St. Ivan Rilski Cave – Many an itinerary will feature a visit to Rila Monastery, which is the largest Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria (and offers overnight stays to visitors in the former rooms of the monks), but a real treat is to take a pilgrimage / purification walk through St. Ivan Rilski Cave where, as the legend goes, those with faith in themselves can climb through the pitch black cave and wash away their sins (if you feel it necessary, you can climb through more than once!).
Kosovo – The village of Kosovo in the Rhodope Mountains (not to be confused with the country of Kosovo) has just 9 residents but its own ethnographic museum, church and tavern! Great for hiking and there are rafting options nearby as well.
Kalofer – If you insist on going to Paris or some other metropolis to get your favorite perfume, consider that rose oil is the primary ingredient of all high-end perfumes and that the Kalofer region is where this oil originates from. The Valley of the Roses provides the perfect climate to produce the Rosa Damascena (Damascus Rose) that is not only used in perfume and cosmetics, but has many therapeutic properties as well. As we visited during the peak of the harvesting season, we picked our fill of roses and made rose jam (as well as some crowns!).
Of course, these suggestions just scratch the surface for what’s on offer in Bulgaria. We also list a few more inspirational options in our eco-certified Discover Bulgaria Experience.
Note that I participated in an ATTA conference aimed to bring together the countries and companies of the Balkans in order to discuss the prospects and future of adventure tourism in the region. For example, one of the agenda items focused on how to stimulate the local economic impact of tourism throughout the Balkans. (Full disclosure that this trip that was sponsored by Odyssea-In and I was a speaker at this conference discussing the ROI of Sustainable Tourism.)